Thursday, November 18, 2010

Are You Prepared If There's a Power Failure?

Cold, wintry weather is in the forecast, and in recent years these storms have consistently caused power failures, some of which have lasted more than a week. With our dependence on electricity at historic levels, this has caused hardship and even death to those who aren’t prepared.
Since almost every year brings some period of time without any power, it’s important for every family to prepare for inevitability of just such an occurrence. With a little bit of forethought and preparation, most people can weather the storm without any assistance. And, during a power outage, government and police assistance is in short supply, with most struggling with multiple emergencies. Rather than burden the already strained safety net, be stocked up and ready when the power goes out.

Be Prepared for the Cold and Darkness
  • • Make sure you have multiple flashlights with plenty of spare batteries.
  • • Have a battery-powered clock in the house to keep track of the time and as a wake-up alarm for work or school (if it is open).
  • • A battery-powered radio will allow you to keep in touch with weather forecasts and other important information that is being broadcast. It will also serve to entertain you with news or music during the long, dark wait.
  • • If you have a fireplace, store a rick of seasoned (dry) firewood
  • • Never operate generators, grills or other heat-producing appliances inside. They create carbon monoxide gas, which is poisonous and can be fatal.
  • • If you’re using a power generator, make sure you have the gas tank filled up, and a spare gas. Gas stations cannot pump gas without electricity.
  • • Wear multiple layers of warm clothing to help keep in body heat.
  • • Avoid downed power lines. Report a downed line immediately to your local utility. Touching one of these lines could result in electrocution.
  • • When sleeping, wear lots of clothes and multiple blankets or comforters.

The CDC recommends that you have a disaster supply kit, which contains enough water, dried and canned food, and emergency supplies (flashlights, batteries, first-aid supplies, medicine and a digital thermometer) to last at least three days.

Food Safety

If the power is out for more than a few hours, avoid opening the refrigerator door or freezer. This will keep the cold trapped inside, and prevent the food from warming up.

Check refrigerated items and throw away food that has a temperature higher than 40 degrees. Freezer food is safe for at least 48 hours, as long as the freezer doors are not opened.

The following resources provide additional information on preparing for emergencies and determining if your food is safe after a power outage:
  • Food Safety After a Power Outage, American Red Cross
 Provides tips on safely storing your food and a chart to help you determine if your food is still safe.
  • Keeping Food Safe in an Emergency, United States Department of Agriculture
 Fact sheet and FAQs on food and water safety including guidance on when to discard perishable foods.
  • Being Prepared, American Red Cross
 Comprehensive site on preparing for emergencies including power outages.
  • Food Safety Office, CDC
 Comprehensive food safety information.

Safe Drinking Water

Have plenty of bottled water on hand. When power goes out, water purification systems can be compromised. If you must use tap water, boil it first to kill off any harmful bacteria. Bringing water to a rolling boil for at least one minute will kill most organisms.

Emergency Shelters

If you must leave your house for any reason, the radio will let you know about community shelters in your area that are opened for people who aren’t prepared to stay at home without electricity. Shelters may start out without cots, chairs, blankets, food or water, so bring your own. Be aware that shelters have no privacy, and may not let you enter with your pets or any defensive weapons, such as pepper spray.

It's much better to be prepared, not burden the emergency services during the outage, and wait out the storm in your own home. It may seem like a hassle now, but when the time comes, you'll be thankful that you were ready.